Current 07/2009

That will be the day. I know that the feature film about the Helvetica typeface was already surprisingly successful, but this was not animated type, it was more a documentary about our profession.


robert appleton



A blockbuster Harry T. movie series still seem to be far off, though. Bob Appleton: 'I am an artist who works as a designer and who is creating innovative new vocabulary by relating music and improvisation to design, art and philosophy. I believe that if we do not create any new vocabulary, then we are commercially and intellectually bankrupt. I have suffered financially to do this work while I feel I've worked too damn hard to fight for an ethical creative future for all of us. Financial support for my kind of work in future looks bleak. That is why I suggested the creation of an AGI Foundation. My idea of an AGI Foundation sets out to create a future for everyone which will support excellence and experimentation over commercial sales. The self-interest of Super-Capitalism needs to be replaced by a moral and aesthetic commitment to beauty, truth and change, which replaces PostModernism'.

Bob's essay 'About Time' introduces this work and the subject of time in 'Tempus Fugit', Index Book, 2009. AGI members included in this book of calendar design include George Tscherny, Paula Scher, John Maeda, Kit Hinrichs, Massimo Vignelli, Ahn Sang Soo and others.

In order to show a bit of the large variety of animated type available, I add a few links next to the Bob's link, one to the rap of Erik Spiekermann and one to the TypoMan one of the first animated type experiments by Erik van Blokland.

Robert Appleton

Essay 'About Time'

Typefaces give us signals

TypoMan of Erik van Blokland


A logo for $99.99

On July 16th, the Wall Street Journal ran an investigating article about what the (English speaking) market had to offer for a logo design below US $ 150, under the pretext that it was not easy today to get a new job, but at least maybe it was easier to get a new brand for less. (I told you, the newspaper is not doing too well, and it's holiday season). The journalist writing the article even secured the cooperation of a PhD (assistant) professor, specialised in corporate branding and logos, to help him with the professional judgement about the quality of the results. Apparently, graphic design is still something extremely mysterious for a journalist working at a once respected business newspaper, and even more surprisingly, graphic design is just as mysterious for a certified scholar specialised in the field.

American/British design excellence for under $ 150.


Both the journalist and the assistant professor seem to have been very serious in their mission. I think that is exceptional. Would these people ever consider to investigate who would do your books for under 150 US dollars ? Or write an article, give a marketing advice or give a talk for 99.99 ? Ok, sure, it's quite clear, I shouldn't be bothered, it's all shockingly poor journalism, scholarliness and design work. Nothing new, really. But hold on, maybe there are a few things worth mentioning. First, countries still differ considerably in the average appreciation of (graphic) design, and secondly, there is this persistant amateurism linked to our profession. It intrigues me, Apple sells excellent design to the masses and Blogger forces almost every blogger (and that are a lot) to use decent typography. So there is a large international mass market for good design. There is this economic law that says that a real mature market has only a few major players that deliver comparable (good) quality and all the rest is very marginal. Graphic design still has a very long way to go.

The Wall Street Journal article


On The Face Of It


Posters with the face of Nada Kahn who became the icon of the Iranian uprising.


Some faces have become very powerful images, portraying an important part of history like the faces of Che Guevara, Marilyn Monroe, Churchill or more recently the bloody face of the Iranian young lady (Nada Kahn) shot dead during the street protests in Tehran. Some scientists believe that facial expressions can reveal our true emotions and our personality, often showing the revealing expression only during a split second. In their view, facial expressions are the best lie detectors around because we cannot fully control our face. To them, a poker face does not exist. We can be mislead only by not paying proper attention. One of the latest internet fads is On this site one can take a daily mugshot of one's own face and the site will produce an animation of the sequence and you can link this animation as a widget to all your blogs and other network instruments to enhance your personal brand. What is interesting in these animations is that some keep a steady face on all shots, while others look like a collection of total different people, the way a mountain changes its picture under different weather conditions. Some have a steady 'image' while others look more like a collection of different personalities. Something similar may happen to the individual face when it gets older. Some people can still be easily recognised after meeting them again decades later at a school reunion for instance. Some look like total strangers to you as if you've never seen them before. I, for instance, had dreamy eyes and long, dark and curly hair and a moustache during my period as a young artistic dog. Now, my hair colour is almost white, cut very short and a lot of it has gone for good (gone are also the curls) and the moustache is no longer sported. No wonder nobody recognises me at reunions. Keeping your face in whatever shape you want to keep it in, or change it to look like you wish to look in your dreams has become a large industry. Facial cosmetics have already become a trillion dollar industry covering most of the ground floor level in all department stores around the world. But that is no longer enough. The more intrusive cosmetic surgery is a fast growing business. The appearance of our face is put more and more in the hands of professionals. Some get a bit worried about this development. There are activists that try to forbid photoshopping of pictures on female models in magazines and advertisements, it seems to drive some women - especially young ones - in the hands of therapists, because they try to look just as perfect as the images. 

Girl-grannies who stay forever young: Joan Collins (76) and Honor Blackman (83)


Ongoing cosmetic tinkering does not always lead to perfection. A few of the many faces of Michael Jackson


A career in show business has become inconceivable without some form of professional cosmetic assistance and indeed some female performers start to look (on pictures) less than half their age. Loosing face used to be a serious event that is better avoided at all costs, but now our face is becoming more like a piece of garment or instrument (like our car), which requires regular maintenance just to keep it doing what we expect it to do for us.



It had become in my eyes a nice old oversized toy. Our perception of size changes depending on the time we live in and environment we're standing in. The skyline of Paris has far more high-rise buildings now than when the Eiffel Tower was erected, that makes it smaller in size. Buildings that look big in Amsterdam would almost disappear when put in midtown Manhattan.


Mega-dinosaur-size land movers for the open tar sand pits in Canada.


Yet, the past 15 years of exuberant wealth have had a strong effect on our desire for larger sizes. Everything that surrounds us (including humans) has become bigger, like cars, houses and practically all items we use on a daily basis. Wealth and power can be visually expressed in many ways, but a larger size remains the most compelling one. Wealthy periods always lead to the erection of huge constructions or large extensions of cities. Every capital in the world bears the traces of wealthy periods. Of course, local conditions, appreciation and technical abilities matter. The pre-historic Pharaohs and later the Greeks and Romans have left structures that still impress in size. (Interestingly, the biggest Roman structures can be found outside of Italy). The historically wealthy periods in cities like Antwerp, Brugge and Amsterdam resulted in buildings of relative moderate size. Paris and Berlin created far bigger buildings and infrastructures during their periods of power. In Berlin most of it was bombed away. Structures in London remained slightly more moderate in size by comparison.The large and empty United States has led to a bonanza of ever larger sizes. Space there was up for grabs. Infrastructure in cities, individual buildings and industrial complexes can be breathtaking in size. The appetite for size of the Americans is still unparalleled. But the rise of wealth in Asian countries has not gone unnoticed. Look at the city hall of Tokyo or the industrial complex around the harbor of Osaka, or the high rise buildings in Shanghai. Structures related to government or religion have been the most impressive ones throughout most of our history. No longer, production facilities or distribution centres are our new cathedrals. (Well more like cathedral cities). Building speed has now reached perplexing levels. (Although we should not forget that the Empire State building in New York took 14 days to design and 18 months to build.). I have watched closely the transformation of Dubai during the past 7 years. A rather agressive form of building metastasis. And the Burj Dubai is a bizarrely tall building, indeed.


Left, building as billboard in Dubai, right, dynamic building face pattern in the Netherlands, design Mecanoo.


In the profession of graphic design size has effectively lost its traditional status of being a constraint. Gigantic printers and 'tiling' digital technology have made size an irrelevant consideration. Endless collections of foils can be stuck to any type of surface on any size. Buildings, floors or pavements can become billboards. But not only static images can be produced in any size, display screens are becoming gigantic in size and are dropping in price at the pace of digital storage. Interactivity follows the development of display screens. Once an image is dynamic it can become interactive and controlable from a distance. One can send for instance a message by mobile phone that will be printed in real time in large size on a pavement somewhere in the US. The young design company Potion claims that every surface is now a potential display, every object a potential interface and every gesture a potential digital command. The economic/ecological crisis is likely to influence the 'just make it big' design trend.  

Interactive displays for museum in Washington, design Potion.


Graphic design is exactly the opposite, it's a very loosely defined skill to do what everybody having a computer can effectively do: using the graphic aspects of a medium to its best – or most entertaining – communicative effect. We all do this today, so we all have become graphic designers, which is just like saying nobody is a graphic designer any longer. The average computer owner possesses a wider variety of typefaces than the individual printing houses used to own, throughout most of the history of print which told the major part of the story of human civilisation.


rocket science


The qualification of being a graphic designer is less than 100 years old and emerged to distinguish the work of what was later called crafts people related to print production, like typesetters or printers, from the graphic designers who more or less instructed the crafts people on what to do. Well, typesetters ceased to exist about 15 years ago and most of the production work needed to distribute 'content' was effectively put on the desk of the person creating the content – the graphic designers. There is nobody left to instruct (except our poor young colleagues in the role of our often far better skilled computer operators). The design and the craft needed for the actual production of it have returned to be the work of one person, just like the way it had been before the Industrial Revolution. But not only the design and production part has been returned to one pair of hands, also the sales promotion and distribution of the product produced as well. I guess this dramatic reduction in a 'value chain' is unparalleled in history. Moreover, the tools needed to do all the promotion, production and distribution work are getting more sophisticated each year. Young designers have become extremely efficient PR agents, publishers and broadcasters of their own stuff. The same counts for all other professionals savvy on computers and most professionals simply have to be highly computer skilled to survive.

Graphic design now operates on four distinct levels. The first level is where user friendly software has effectively taken over the need for additional professional help, making everybody a designer of sort. This level is already big and will only grow further in the future. People design themselves everyday products like letterheads, business cards, posters, reports, leaflets, brochures or booklets, these media no longer need the involvement of a designer. Writing and publishing your own book is a piece of cake. The same counts for music and short film (or animation) releases. Most young professionals participate in a delicate and intense broadcasting of their own personal achievements through blogs, networking platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or what have you. Relevant professional developments are efficiently gathered by personalized web feed software. One can follow, steer and manipulate one's own digital profile and presence meticulously, and this information will be used by interested parties. Personal branding sounds bizarrely presumptuous, but is a serious consideration for all ambitious people—The Blogger template is, by the way, probably the most used graphic template in history, and also a well crafted one.

The most dynamic and fastest growing level of graphic design does not involve designers, or only indirectly. The second big level involves designers in a more or less traditional crafts role. It's the large professional field of one-designer-with-a-computer business who services small to medium size organisations (or individuals) less savvy on computers themselves or simply using – the certainly not expensive by any standard – graphic designers for economic reasons. This type of professionals work from their homes or gather in cost sharing group practices, often having ad-hoc working relations with colleagues or computer technicians.

The third level is the level where large organisations – commercial, non-commercial or governmental – are serviced for their graphic design needs. This can either be done by larger design studios or by in house design departments. Within this layer the profiling professional developments are made and professional standards are set. Designers working in this layer may operate out of the limelight (although some feel more the need to step within) but this segment determines how the profession is judged by the most influential part of society. Regrettably, this level is losing much of its original status and influence.

The forth level is the educational and cultural level. This level has grown tremendously in the affluent societies during the past 20 years. This is the level were visual trends are developed and where individual designer's fame is made. It's the visual laboratory of graphic design. It's the level where AGI recruits most of its members. It's also the most international 'jet-set' part of design since all involved are given the sufficient means and have a large self-induced need to mingle internationally—for all other levels, graphic design remains a very local business. Financially, it's not a very attractive level to work in as a graphic designer, since it attracts many ambitious (young) designers with little financial demands and budgets tend to be relatively small – and a credit crisis certainly does not help to make it better. Graphic designers working in this segment would be better off becoming artists, or directors of the program themselves.

This segment has portrayed the public face of the so-called creative professions, which are all moving into the direction originally only occupied by the entertainment industry. We have now 'star' architects and 'star' designers – sort of. There is little objection to this development other than that stardom fits more naturally with entertainment related arts – or fashion, than with design or architecture. Museum exhibitions, professional publications or events are still disseminating worthwhile professional developments but they are becoming more and more the end-stations of a large number of design projects. Design and architecture is made solely for the purpose of appearing in museum exhibitions or magazines – even when commissioned by others – transforming designers and architects more into performing artists, like theatre, circus or vaudeville actors. Consequentially, they are also merchandised like those professionals. Selling t-shirts has becoming (embarrassingly) normal in our profession, even when there is no market for it whatsoever. The Mephistophelean transformation from having the ambition to add to a professional conscience rather than solely seeking individual and commercially motivated exposure seems to be hardly recognised. Today's professional pressure to expose oneself can be a very isolating force.

The shift to the mores of the entertainment industry is not really a very desirable development in many respects. When we go to the theatre or to the circus we expect to have an extraordinary experience away from every day life. But design and architecture serve a different need. It's OK that some designs taste very unique and special, but design is also a commodity, like roads, our daily food or an electricity or a telephone connection. Unlike theatre, design simply is so much part of our daily life. We do not want it to be special on all occasions, we just want it to be there, anonymous, pleasant, well functioning and unassuming. Unlike art, most excellent design goes unnoticed, only bad design is remembered because it drives us mad. We do not want to be excited on every curve we make in life, that would drive most of us crazy. We don't want to eat every day in a three star restaurant, that's not an invitation to enter paradise. We don't want to live in cities where all architecture is designed by a choreographer fancying only splits and pirouettes because these are more likely to appear in design publications, that would be unlivable cities. In the same way, we do not want to be solely surrounded by signature and groundbreaking designs that are more likely to be found in the collections of museums. It would be a rather devilish prospect.

Design is for the major part about the enhancement of the quality of our daily life and not about the quality of our yearly (or quarterly, depending on where you live) holidays. To some, this may be a disappointing prospect, but most of our lives is about breathing; not about gasping.



Thomas Couderc work updates

Thomas Couderc has updated their work, see it here.

Clément Vauchez work updates

Clément Vauchez has updated their work, see it here.

Alexandre Dimos work updates

Alexandre Dimos has updated their work, see it here.

Yu Guang work updates

Yu Guang has updated their work, see it here.

Alan Chan work updates

Alan Chan has updated their work, see it here.

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